Guide to smart building technologies: systems and solutions

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Smart building overview

There are many influential technologies, such as cars and cell phones, that have transformed our world forever. Another emerging technology is smart infrastructure, which is quickly changing the way people work and live inside buildings. With the number of smart building companies steadily on the rise, this future-forward technology and the buildings they create are in high demand more than ever before.

Smart buildings are more eco-friendly, provide increased safety, and utilize energy-efficient systems that can benefit the wellbeing and financial solvency of users and building owners.  This guide will provide everything you need to know about these buildings, including a detailed explanation of the benefits, the top smart infrastructure security elements, and must-know information about the implementation process.

What is a smart building?

Smart infrastructure engages technology to maximize resource efficiency while providing a convenient and secure environment for its users. Certain building technologies can be applied to regulate and enhance the performance of the building, including Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, building management solutions, artificial intelligence (AI), and augmented reality (AR). 

While many people use the terms “intelligent building” and “smart building” interchangeably, there is an important distinction between the two. Buildings that leverage automated processes and integrate the working technologies together are often referred to as intelligent building systems, whereas smart buildings are generally controlled and regulated by administrators manually. Intelligent building and smart building solutions also both tend to include environmentally conscious design elements, too. To determine just how intelligent your building is, many companies develop intelligent building indexes as a qualitative assessment of your building’s performance and how it meets key criteria.

Is the smart building market growing? 

As a result of the advanced functions these buildings have, year by year, the number of countries shifting to smart building technology has been increasing steadily, according to Smart Buildings Market. This is because even if the buildings are more expensive initially to build in comparison to the traditional structures, they cost less in the long term due to the effective operating systems.

The market is expected to increase 10.9 percent from $72.6 billion in 2021 to $121.6 billion by 2026. The United Kingdom and The Netherlands are among the leading countries with the number of smart buildings. One of the world's smartest buildings is located in the heart of the Netherlands, in Amsterdam, and is known as The Edge.

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The benefits of smart building technologies

If you’re wondering if smart infrastructure is a worthwhile investment, it is helpful to know about the key advantages these special types of buildings offer. Here are three beneficial functions these buildings provide:

Improving building efficiency: Thanks to the information that special IoT sensors provide, smart systems know where heat and light are needed or can identify the parts of the property that can use smart building solutions, improving the overall performance and efficiency of the buildings. Key building features include smart HVAC systems that can optimize air conditioning usage or smart lighting that can detect occupancy and shut off lighting when specific rooms or hallways are not in use to reduce energy costs.

Improving property visibility: IoT building automation is powered by cloud applications, letting administrators monitor and control all buildings from anywhere in the world using their computers or smartphones. This means administrators can gain access to past or real-time footage from security camera systems remotely, allowing for more flexible control and the ability to take swift control of your property’s security measures. IoT automation can also assist managers by building access logs, giving a detailed view of who is entering and leaving the building at a specific time and date. You can also pair entry access logs with other technologies like a commercial video surveillance system to provide a full story of entry events, giving managers a better idea of how the property is being used by employees and visitors or providing valuable information on a break-in or unauthorized access event. 

Reducing building costs over time: While it may seem that these buildings are costly to set up, owners will come to understand that their building costs can decrease dramatically due to the efficiency benefits of smart building technologies. By way of illustration, buildings with smart HVAC systems can automatically adjust the lights, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning each time the occupants leave or enter the building. In addition, intelligent buildings that employ automations to achieve menial daily tasks, such as checking inventory, ordering supplies, or generating security reports, free up employees to concentrate on more important matters, saving time and money on the operations side.

Future-forward sensors for detailed data and analytics: On top of the efficiency of the building, IoT sensors also play a huge role in data. These special devices monitor their surroundings and record or transmit the information they collect to a computer processor. Thanks to this process, buildings with smart technology can access the data and extract useful analytics about how the building is being utilized. For instance, IoT sensors can help building owners identify building usage and occupancy trends, giving them valuable information to better adjust tenancy in a multi-tenant property. Another use case is using smart building solutions like ajar doors, glass breaking, and gunshot detection to help security teams identify potential risks and mitigate damages during an emergency.

Create a smarter building with Openpath
  • Scalable access control with backward system compatibility

  • Cloud-based software for remote building management

  • Seamless integrations for unlimited automation capabilities

  • Access video footage and entry alerts for full security visibility

  • Receive customized alerts for specific access events

  • Award-winning hardware with video and intercom technology 

  • Automatic system updates performed over the cloud

  • Touchless access solutions via encrypted mobile entries

The top smart building security elements

While many people tend to associate commercial smart building technologies with voice-activated coffee machines and energy efficiency, security also plays a key role in future-forward spaces. Here are some of the key security elements every smart building should have:

Physical security

One key element of smart commercial spaces is physical security technology, such as access control, that building owners can use to receive important data and improve the well-being of the visitors, residents, or employees. This smart technology can help streamline your physical security, ensuring only secured users can enter the building and automating certain physical security measures such as triggering a video capture of an unusual event or automatically alerting managers of doors left ajar. Smart automation can be applied to front doors, turnstiles, elevator controls, video cameras, and so much more, strengthening physical security systems beyond traditional building management. 

Cybersecurity

In today’s technological age, cyber attacks have become more and more common. With the existence of IoT-connected smart building technologies, property owners must be vigilant of potential cyberattacks using malware, spyware, or other malicious attacks against operational smart building systems. These attacks can threaten the physical security and safety of your building, so it’s important to work with a reputable cybersecurity professional to build a protective cybersecurity system. A component of cybersecurity that building managers may find helpful is IoT-specific security that secures your building’s Internet-connected devices. Look for an IoT cybersecurity solution that also monitors in real-time for any potential threats or suspicious activity across your Internet network, as this is a key strategy in staying ahead of system vulnerabilities.  

Emergency systems

With advancements in the fields of micro-electro-mechanical systems, as well as with the development of digitized technologies and the help of various IoT devices, smart infrastructure can automate various processes and regulate dozens of building services. Thanks to this system, building users will avoid unexpected incidents that can be costly or even dangerous. For example, a smart alarm system can monitor the building for unusual activity, activating an automated lockdown or alerting administrators and first responders if a certain trigger, such as an unauthorized entry, fire, or other emergency is detected. 

Occupancy tracking and visitor management

Many companies shifted to remote or hybrid working, especially during and after the COVID-19  pandemic. Smart building technologies can help administrators better manage their office building security by tracking occupancy and managing visitor access to stay on top of who’s coming and going. By using a visitor management solution, administrators can gain real-time access to occupancy data and visitor entries to better understand how the building is being used. Look for a solution that can be remotely accessed and controlled, too, as this can help building managers control their building’s safety measures from anywhere in the world on a smartphone or laptop.

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How to implement smart building technology

By investing in just one, a few, or many smart building solutions, businesses and organizations can reap the benefits of cutting-edge technology. If you’re not sure where to start first, here are a few ideas for implementing smart building technologies on your property:

Invest in smart building software

The importance of software for smart infrastructure is huge, as it is the basis for the function of the property. It is no surprise that the better the system, the fewer problems could later arise throughout the maintenance of the building. Here are a few ideas of what to look for when choosing smart building software investments that will benefit your organization in the long run:

  • Cloud-based software for flexible control and remote management

  • Open standards for seamless integration with your IoT devices

  • Intuitive smart building design to reduce onboarding and training time for your team

  • Automatic updates over the cloud for less internal upkeep of your systems

Installation of smart building controls

Smart building controls can help administrators better monitor and regulate their building systems. For the most flexible and convenient smart building controls, consider investing in remote management technology. Remote building management can help managers identify and resolve issues within a given smart infrastructure by automating scheduled operations. With the help of remote access and management tools such as magnetic locks for doors and access control software, managers can ensure authorized entries that are more convenient and secure for both managers and employees. Smart locks, specifically, are easy to install and implement, and make a significant difference in security protection beyond a basic passcode or PIN code entry that can easily be bypassed by an unauthorized user.

Although touch-free credentials are not new in the market, because of their convenience and heightened security aspects, the role of these credentials becomes more important as technology advances. For example, by using biometric access control such as face identification, employees working in the building will be able to enter the workplace without needing to type a certain password, swipe a key card, or present a key fob, strengthening your building’s security measures and preventing lost or stolen credentials.

Integrate cyber and physical security with smart building automation

The role of security of a building is significant, and integrating both cyber and physical security will protect the residents and lower the chances of cyber attacks. Physical and cyber securities should be interconnected as they work holistically to limit access to protected data as well as the physical spaces and devices that house them. This smart building system automation will help the users discover potential system anomalies, prioritize warnings as they arrive, and allow for a quicker reaction time to security threats. 

Incorporate artificial intelligence into your system

The use of artificial intelligence is vital for the function of the building as AI analytics can be used to enhance operations, decrease inefficiencies, and save costs throughout building platforms in a variety of sectors. AI gives computers access to gather information through pictures and videos, giving managers a clearer view of activity in their building using data labeling.

Artificial intelligence can empower administrators to make informed decisions as this technology can help detect suspicious building activities, provide timely alerts to the safety and efficiency of the smart building systems, and provide detailed analytics to help teams understand how their buildings are being used. In short, incorporating AI into your system is a beneficial tool that assists in promoting building efficiency.

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Smart building solutions and examples

Smart building IoT solution example: Powerhouse Telemark 

Powerhouse Telemark is a carbon-negative building employing some of the latest building tech—from incredible energy efficiency to streamlined cloud management, to leveraging digital and mobile systems for day-to-day operations and access. By leveraging Openpath’s integration with Orbit workspace management solutions, Powerhouse Telemark makes better use of the building by streamlining access control and office management. For example, Orbit gives Powerhouse Telemark users smart access to workspace rooms in real-time, allowing them to book and access the building through an accessible app.

Use cases of smart building implementation

When implementing smart building technologies, many organizations have the goal of reducing overhead costs by creating a more energy efficient property. Use cases of smart building technology that can help managers achieve this are smart building systems like smart HVAC, which can use occupancy sensors to automatically adjust heating and air conditioning. This automated HVAC adjustment feature results in a more comfortable building environment for users and significantly reduces energy bills. 

Another smart building application that managers seek to achieve is a more flexible building environment for workers with in-office and remote work options. A use case for this goal is the implementation of hot desk software, which allows for a simplified access control solution for employees, regardless of how frequently or infrequently they are physically in the office. This kind of smart building solution allows employees to remotely book desks, meeting areas, and conference rooms in the building. It also assists with tracking health and safety data, and gives administrators greater visibility into how and when their offices are being utilized. 

Openpath’s mobile and cloud-based access solutions can help fulfill many of these building goals, with several features that can help businesses work toward creating a smarter building. With Openpath, administrators can manage and automate access control systems to add more layers of security. For example, managers can choose to only grant access to employees who are expected to be on the property, denying any other users or employees who are not meant to be in the building that day. Openpath also makes this secure access smooth and convenient with touchless access via Openpath’s smartphone app credentials, making it a well-liked choice for both employees and managers. Openpath also seamlessly integrates with various prominent smart office technology providers like video analytics systems, productivity services, wireless locks, and more, allowing property owners to leverage smart building solutions like automated data, access control, and video security technology to make their buildings more efficient and secure.

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Smart building system management considerations

Each smart building is a one-of-a-kind construction in terms of requirements and attributes. However, there are certain common factors to consider when it comes to building management to ensure your intelligent building is performing at its peak.

Scalability: One core feature your smart building systems should harness is scalability. Whether your organization is expanding the physical property, needs more specific smart lighting or smart HVAC systems as employees return to the office, or you need to scale down less-utilized systems, it’s crucial to have a system that can be easily adjusted for your needs.

Interoperability: It’s key to ensure that your smart building systems will work efficiently with existing systems. Before investing in these smart building solutions, ensure that any software or hardware products will work with existing platforms, such as a video monitoring software or commercial access control system, that you’d prefer to keep using within your organization. With the help of a smart building company, you can integrate your existing and new smart building systems for seamless operability. 

Installation and upkeep costs: In order to set up the building, managers will need to invest in specific types of sensors, smart bulbs, security cameras, speakers, and other devices based on their building’s needs. This means that installation and upkeep costs depend on the type of equipment the owners choose.

Maintenance time and costs: Just like traditional buildings, smart building systems also require routine maintenance and updates that can incur additional time and costs. The electronic devices, including sensors, security cameras, and smart thermostats or HVAC systems, will need to be updated from time to time. To minimize the impact of regular updates, look for smart building systems that come equipped with automatic over-the-air upgrade options. This will not only keep the systems running with the latest technology, but also minimizes downtime and disruptions to business.

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